Bonhoeffer writes in his Cost of Discipleship:
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
This week, Pastor Mark Driscoll published on Mars Hill Church’s website a public 30 minute video on what he calls a season of learning in his life during which he is sorrowful and lamenting. Since he made this video public beyond his own church membership and many people are discussing it, even affirming it, I feel a strong need to address it. Because what Pastor Mark does in this video is one of the clearest examples I’ve ever seen of what the Apostle Paul calls “worldly sorrow.”
2 Corinthians 7:10 For godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly sorrow produces death.
When it comes to our personal responses to our own sin, these are the only two options. When faced with confrontation or other natural consequences of your sin, you can mourn your sin in a way that leads you to confess to God, change your direction, and repair with those you have hurt. And that response allows you to get up and go forward without regret. I’ve never once in my life met someone who REGRETTED bringing their sin into the light, confessing it honestly, and repairing with those they had wronged. Godly sorrow producing repentance is beautiful.
The second option when faced with painful consequences of your sin is worldly sorrow, grief and lament in response to the consequences of one’s sin that does not understand and appropriate Christ’s payment for it. Pastor Mark is not the first person who can (over)use Jesus’ name in proper context who does not appropriate how the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection speaks into the consequences of sin he is now facing at Mars Hill. Such people often want forgiveness. They want grace extended to them. And, in Christ, there is no condemnation according to Romans 8:1! Yet, the same Paul who wrote Romans 8:1 instructs us in Ephesians 5 to bring our sin into the light, because the light of Christ is a disinfectant. Expose the sin. Own the sin. Not to bring shame and condemnation but to bring restoration and healing! Any hope of “forgiveness” without clear, specific repentance is exactly what Bonhoeffer labels cheap grace. It’s continuing in sin that grace may abound, to which Paul says, “God forbid!”
The indication for any one of us of godly verses worldly sorrow is summed up in one word – repentance. True repentance always starts with a specific naming of your sin, and it always includes a change in your ways. I love the definition of the Greek word for repent according to Strong – “to change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.” Godly sorrow that produces repentance will include statements along these lines – “I sinned against God and (name redacted). I have asked their forgiveness and am seeking to repair with them in the ways that I can. I am taking these steps to guard myself from doing the same in the future.” It always comes with a hearty desire to amend your ways with an abhorrence for how you sinned against God and others in the past.
I am writing this post because it is of utmost importance that people (believing and unbelieving) hearing Jesus’ name understand the difference in worldly and godly sorrow. I am very grieved that Mars Hill Church uses the name of Jesus over and over in their materials (even linking to this latest video with the url jesus.to), yet the lead pastor models a worldly sorrow without repentance that Paul says leads to death. It is irresponsible (for those of us who know these things from first hand experience and are in a position to address them) to turn away as Jesus’ name is used in empty, cheap ways. Thankfully, in this area, many of God’s children are rising up to confront these things privately as well as publicly. This is good for the Church.
Long before Pastor Mark released this week’s video, I wrote about godly verses worldly sorrow in The Gospel-Centered Woman. I felt that many women, myself included, often linger in this sorrowful place over our sin without understanding how repentance in the shadow of the cross heals and repairs. I’ll close with these thoughts from the book.
Worldly sorrow is characterized by feelings of shame, pain, or embarrassment that you got caught in sin. Along with that shame, you may feel hopelessness over ever being cleansed from your sin or your ability to repair the relationship with the person you sinned against. Such worldly sorrow may be relieved by someone else doing something for you or you doing something for yourself. Maybe you seek out someone to affirm you or distract you. You may try to manipulate how others think of you and look to them to make you feel better about yourself. If one relationship is broken, you may manipulate other relationships to replace the one you harmed.
In contrast, godly sorrow is sorrow that directs you to Christ. You do not need someone else to do something for you. You do not need to do something for yourself. Instead, you fall flat on your face before God alone, for godly sorrow points you directly to Him. Godly sorrow is relieved by repentance and faith in what Christ has already done for you. Then, resting in what God has done for you, you can lay down your attempts to justify yourself to others. You can simply ask their forgiveness and repair with those you have hurt.
Many of us spend years of our lives mistaking worldly sorrow on a wide range of sin issues for authentic repentance and then wonder why we never change or why our relationships never heal. Feeling bad about what you have done is not the same as a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. God calls us to recognize our wrongdoing and need for forgiveness and then turn to God to forgive and correct it. We do not have to live in a perpetual state of regret and shame. Christ bore our shame and condemnation on the cross. His sacrifice for us equips us to face our sin head-on without fear that it will forever define us.